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Court Grants Motion to Compel Defendant to Produce Documents as Requested and Chronicle Approach – eDiscovery Case Law


In Home Instead, Inc. v. Florance, No. 8:12CV264, 2013 U.S. Dist. (D. Neb. Nov. 8, 2013), following a motion to compel discovery on behalf of the plaintiff, Nebraska Magistrate Judge Cheryl R. Zwart ordered the defendant to produce documents requested during discovery and required the defendant to produce a sworn affidavit chronicling the methods used in their search for production of the discovery documents.

During this dispute over a franchise agreement, the parties were ordered to meet for a discussion of the discovery matter but failed to resolve any issues.  The plaintiff alleged the documents were not produced due to the defendant’s destruction, deleting, selling, shredding, or otherwise discarding of the documents.  The plaintiff also alleged that their attempts at searching electronically for documents fell short of a good faith effort and was therefore inadequate.  According to testimony by both David and Michelle Florance, the defendants, there was not a thorough search of email accounts for responsive documents.  This “broad” search did not include reviewing client paper files, employee files, caregiver logs, or client care plans or service contracts. 

Additionally, the defendants were unable to explain what efforts their employees used to find information.  Furthermore, their electronic search merely consisted of looking for the words “Home Instead”, and they subsequently deleted any documents found.  The defendants did not retain a copy or forward the document to counsel.  Judge Zwart agreed with the plaintiff and felt they were entitled to a sworn affidavit, “not only to determine the extent of the defendants’ search for production of responsive discovery”, but to also assess the defendant’s culpability in failing to preserve evidence used in litigation.

As to the manner of production, the plaintiff alleged the defendants provided “one large PDF that contains no metadata, no indication of parent-document relationship, on no indication as to the beginning and end of each document.”  The motion requested Judge Zwart to compel the defendants to produce their discovery responses in compliance with the Federal Rules.

According to the parties’ Rule 26(f) report, any document maintained in electronic form during a party’s normal course of business will also be produced in electronic form as “searchable TIFF images with load files to allow images to be loaded into a document production database.”  Those documents not produced in electronic form in a party’s ordinary course of business and not scanned into electronic form prior to the date of production are allowed to be produced in the manner in which they are maintained.  In addition, Rule 34(b)(2)(e) of the FRCP states that a party “must produce documents as they are kept in the usual course of business or must organize and label them to correspond to the categories in the request.”

The defendant’s deposition testimony showed that while the defendants located electronic documents, they did not produce them in an electronic format as required under their agreement with the Plaintiff or the federal rules.  They also failed to organize and label any documents that may have existed in their usual course of business, a requirement under the Federal Rules.  Judge Zwart agreed with the plaintiff, stating that the defendants “failed to organize and label [the documents] as required under the Federal Rules,” and granted the plaintiff’s motion to compel.

So, what do you think?  Should the motion to compel have been granted?   Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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